Monday 16 December 2019

Brendan Rodgers gets Real Madrid to locate best team

Madrid gamble can pay off for Liverpool boss as he strives to rediscover winning formula

Adam Lallana shakes hands with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after the team's defeat in Madrid
Adam Lallana shakes hands with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after the team's defeat in Madrid

Chris Bascombe

As the final whistle blew in the Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday night, there was the sound of endorsement in one corner of the arena.

A few thousand Liverpool fans sang Brendan Rodgers' name, an acknowledgement that they knew what was coming the manager's way had his team selection gone horribly wrong.

This was their way of saying that, even in defeat, he had retained their trust after 90 minutes of dice rolling.

The risk was solely personal for Rodgers because embarrassment in such a grand setting would have fractured his relationship with those fans. It did not happen.

If degrees were handed out for retrospective wisdom we would all be scholars, but what many feared would be a humiliation ended in a slender defeat. Twirl the stats in your favour if you wish, but Real never cut through Liverpool as they did at Anfield.

Cue the argument that Liverpool contentment at losing narrowly is a symbol of their decline. Perhaps it is, but that road has been signposted for years so it is odd it was flagged up on this particular evening against such a brilliant team - the European champions.

This would not be prominent in what is an extensive recent list of 'examples of how far Liverpool have sunk since their peak'.

Part of the problem here is the contradiction between Liverpool's big-name status and the well-documented reality of where they are when compared to the ultra-elite clubs. Judging the current Liverpool against this higher standard is an exercise in staring at that badge and red shirt rather than the reality at the club - the squad, the infrastructure, the urgent need to get things right off the pitch to ensure promising seasons like the last one are not built on sand.

Blip

They do not help themselves, of course, often talking themselves up far too prematurely, but whoever sent out the rogue memo that finishing second in the Premier League made them the equal of Real Madrid needs to have rethink.

Liverpool had not even been in England's top six since 2009 before last May, let alone resembled a Champions League side. They are still trying to work their way back, hoping to ensure last season's thrills were not just a Luis Suarez-inspired blip.

It has also become increasingly unclear over the past 24 hours what was most offensive about Rodgers' team selection. Spanish media suggested Rodgers belittled Liverpool's history with his line-up, while in the next sentence argued he had damaged his chances of a future La Liga job. So this was meant to be the Liverpool manager's audition ahead of a move to a superior Spanish club? Who is belittling whom, again?

It is not as if Rodgers was meddling with an all-conquering winning formula.

If this was the Liverpool of last season and he was leaving out Suarez and Daniel Sturridge ahead of the visit of Chelsea there would be anger on Merseyside, but those so certain what the best starting XI is should email Rodgers. He has been trying to locate it since August.

Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling would certainly be in it, and it is inconceivable they will not face Chelsea on Saturday, but can the others benched in Madrid genuinely feel aggrieved?

Joe Allen said it was an insult to those selected to describe them as 'reserves'. "Yes I think it probably is (disrespectful)," Allen said.

"You sometimes can't win with a squad rotation policy. With the added demands we have this season that has to be the way to do it. That is definitely going to get us results."

Last weekend's poor performance against Newcastle undermined the idea Glen Johnson, Mario Balotelli, Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren should be considered first choice.

If the manager is true to his word, Kolo Toure, Fabio Borini and Lucas Leiva can expect a run in the side.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's principle owner, John W Henry, is in the Middle East courting business opportunities that may assist the club.

Henry is not specifically on club duty in Dubai, but is being accompanied by Liverpool's former chief executive Rick Parry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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